In the seminal book The Other 23 Hours* published thirty years ago, James Whittaker contributed a chapter in which he talked about “the goal of every child-care worker to relate the world of fun and activities to the child whose ability to enjoy success is often overshadowed by his fear that ‘I can't do anything right’.” This is a short extract from the chapter:
1. One of the key tools of the child-care worker in executing a
successful activity is the use of his own enthusiasm. The counselor who is
actively involved in the game (and who is quite obviously enjoying himself)
provides a model for the child of how a person relates to an activity. It is
no small task, however, to juggle the roles of "helping adult" and
"playmate," and counselors should guard against becoming so involved in the
activity that they cannot step out from time to time to manage a crisis.
2. Activities should be ended when they are going well and while the children are enjoying themselves. Many counselors have experienced dismay when the activity they have been running all evening crumbles before their eyes when it is left to run out. It is better to leave the child with a positive picture of the activity at its high point, rather than with a negative picture of its demise.
3. The timing and sequence of activities are important variables to control. For example, large group activities first thing in the morning are not usually successful because the individual egos of the youngsters are too fragmented and-shaky to be exposed to mass group games. Similarly, body contact sports right before bedtime are likely to contage the group into erotic and aggressive play at a time when children are undressing and taking showers. (Here let us explode for all time the myth that "a few laps around the track" or a "wrestling match" will "tire them out and make them ready for sleep." )
4. Often the counselor must rejuvenate and alter old activities to make them more attractive to the youngsters. One counselor changed the old and familiar game of "ghosts" to "rocketships" and enjoyed a good deal of success with it. We must also make allowance for the child's inability to delay gratification; thus a rapid rotation of hitters may be better than a conventional game of baseball.
5. With ego-damaged children whose skill level is often pitifully low, we must be careful not to place too much emphasis on the "finished product." Similarly, the counselor should use his own skills to complement those of the child and not be overly concerned over who did what.
6. Despite the most careful planning of an activity, the counselor may be faced with the situation of seeing it turn to dust before his eyes as a result of the pathology of the individual youngster or the mood of the group. He must be ever ready to switch activities in midstream as the need arises.
7. Many child-care workers ask the question, "How do I start an activity?". The answer simply is do it! It is quite easy to fall into the trap of wanting to "get the whole group together" (and quiet) before beginning, when often it is the lure of the activity itself that will do most to interest the youngsters.
8. Generally speaking, when working with a younger group, it is better to begin with parallel activities, i.e., those which do not require interaction between the members. Thus, it is better to have six individual model ships and not one giant aircraft carrier for "everyone to work on." Participation and facilitative interaction are goals to be sought, but later as the group develops.
9. Similarly, when beginning to work with a younger group, it is wise for the child care worker to reserve the greater portion of decision-making for himself. This alleviates some- what the problem of each child having to negotiate with every other child what the activity is to be.
10. Finally, the child-care worker should not attempt those activities in which he is not skilled or does not feel comfort- able, just because he or she feels some need to be the "com- pleat counselor." It would be far better for him to develop those skills and interests which are most important to him, for there is usually a wide enough variation among child care staff that the children are exposed to a whole range of different activities.
* Trieschman, A., Whittaker, J. and Brendtro, L. (1969) The Other 23 Hours: Child care work with emotionally disturbed children in a therapeutic milieu. New York: Aldine de Gruyter